Back to Pen and Paper

My Messy Moleskine
Image by adulau via Flickr

I tend to write fiction—or abortive attempts at long form writing in general—in fits and starts. There will be a burst of activity followed by a lengthy dry spell, which I’ll conclude with the sudden realization that it’s time to stop talking about seriously committing to writing again and actually do it. Then I’ll start again, and it will be wonderful, and I’ll be able to sustain a slow but steady productive clip for, oh, a couple weeks.

No doubt a lot of people are in the same boat as me. And I’m sure it’s for similar reasons, chief among them being that when the initial rush of enthusiasm peters out, it becomes hard to maintain discipline. (In that way, among many others, writing is similar to exercise, or eating healthy, and many of the other good habits that other people seem to consider a part of their normal, functional lives.)

There are a lot of obstacles to discipline, but I think I’ve finally identified one of my big ones: the computer. Writing about one subject in the long-term is hard under normal circumstances, and it’s even harder when wi-fi is everywhere and Microsoft Word has to share a screen with Twitter, GMail, Feedly, etc.

So from now on, all of my first drafts are going to be written written, as in using my hand to guide a pen or pencil across a piece of paper in a notebook. They will be written in longhand. And, if all goes according to plan, they will be written while I’m not even in the vicinity of a computer screen.

If the only outcome of this new routine is that I become a more industrious writer, that’s fine by me. But my hope is that it will also make me a better writer. Writing by hand is, after all, more reflective than typing things out. Not only does it demand your undivided attention in a way that Word cannot, but it forces you to write at a far more deliberate pace (I don’t know about you hunt-and-peck types, but I type faster than I scribble). You labor over each sentence for longer, which should mean, at least in theory, that you think about it longer. And it’s no longer so easy to go back and delete stuff, which means you’re required to think a little more before you shoot. At least, again, in theory.

But I think the biggest thing for me is I’m hoping this will restore a little bit of the fun to writing. I don’t like being shackled to my computer whenever I want to get real work done, and it would be nice to feel some sort of tactile connection to the words I produce. Besides, with little to show from many years of keyboard pounding, it seems like it’s well past time to mix it up a bit.

I know I’ve got a few readers whose interest in writing extends beyond blog posts and hyperlinked articles, so maybe I’ll open the floor to you guys: what tools do you use to get the job done?

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